It’s been a long time since I wrote about running. This is mostly because I haven’t been doing very much of it. It’s amazing how quickly one gets used to sleeping in a little later on weekdays and a lot later on the weekends, staying in pajamas half the day. Eventually though, the itch creeps in from somewhere. I can never find the source and I can never stop it’s persistent pressure on my weak will. And so, on Saturday morning just after 7am, I found myself ticking off the mile markers on the C&O Canal Trail, watching the early morning sun slowly escape the horizon. It was a perfect day. Between thin skins of ice, the canal water was quiet and smooth as glass, with a reflection so clear and real, I felt that if I dove in head-first, I might be standing right-side up in the upside-down world beneath the surface. There were cardinals, in pairs, the bright red male and his muted brown mate, hopping about in the dust and darting through the barren brush. The cold air bit the lungs in a way that shook one awake and brought on an animal alertness. The cold also brings a certain sharpness and clarity to the air. The outline of the rising moon was cut so cleanly against the rosy sky, I felt that I could pluck it out of the air, as if it were a piece of construction paper in a shoe box diorama. Clearly, I was smitten, all over again.
My dad was always a morning exerciser and when we were in Maine in the summers, that exercise came in the form of a long bike ride over many miles of steep mountain roads. In college, dad was on the cycling team. He kept an old, vintage bike from his college years that he hadn’t ridden since. When he returned to the sport many years later, he bought a Specialized road bike. And then he bought another. He was a bit of a gear head. He had all types of performance clothing, a little rear-view mirror to hook on his glasses, an aero bar, rollers to train inside, he even had a fan to attach to the rollers to simulate a head wind. But it wasn’t about any of the gear, it was about those few weeks in the summer, when he could take time off work, escape to the woods, and hit the road everyday. Where a steep hill would reward you with a dazzling view of the lake and the scent of pine hung heavy in the still misty air. I didn’t get it as a kid. Dad would walk in the door in his bike shoes and sweat-drenched shirt, wisps of hair clinging to his head, face red from the exertion and the wind. And I would look up at him from my bowl of cereal and my book and wonder what would possess anyone to leave our cozy home before the deer had even made their first pass through the lawn. I get it now.
It’s convenient that the return of the running bug happened to coincide with my bread-baking success (and now obsession). Now that I’ve tripled my weekly mileage, it will be much less challenging to polish off two loaves a week. People often ask me what I eat immediately before a long run. I eat bread. Straight, unadulterated, no butter, no nothing. Just bread. The night before, however, I eat whatever I want. And Friday night that happened to be fish, really delicious, rich and salty Mahi Mahi over lentils and sweet potatoes. I modified the recipe slightly, cooking the fish in several tablespoons of oil, plus several tablespoons of butter. Once the fish was mostly cooked through, I added lemon and the chopped tarragon. There was enough lemon-butter sauce to thoroughly douse all of the fish and the lentils. I recommend this. Really, you should do this. Eat this. And run the next day.
Halibut with Lentils and Mustard Sauce from Real Simple by Kate Merker
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/4 cups green lentils, rinsed (1/2 pound)
kosher salt and black pepper
4 6-ounce pieces halibut fillet
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 to 6 minutes.
Add the garlic and sweet potato and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth and lentils and simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Season with ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Season the fish with ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook until opaque throughout, 3 to 5 minutes per side.
In a bowl, whisk together the mustard, wine, and tarragon. Divide the lentil mixture and fish among plates and drizzle with the sauce.